“Daddy,” my daughter asked me, yet again, from the backseat of the car, “I want to talk about that thing.”
“It’s called puberty, Natalie,” I said. “You can say the word.”
“It’s a funny word.”
“It’s from a Latin word. They all sound funny. But lots of medical stuff is in Latin.”
“So will they talk about that in school?”
“At some point,” I said. “Probably when you’re a bit older.”
“I don’t want the boys to be there.”
“That stuff’s for girls.”
“Boys go through puberty too. And it’s important they learn how it affects girls too.”
“When I talk to you about this stuff,” Natalie said. “It’s not weird. But when other people talk to me about it, it’s weird.”
“You can ask Mommy and me about this stuff anytime you want to,” I said. “We’ll tell you what you need to know.”
No one ever talked to me about puberty when I was growing up. My introduction to sexual maturity was my eight grade teachers telling my class how we were all starting to stink and to use deodorant. Oh, and getting slapped upside the head for looking down Leigh-Ann Stakowski’s blouse to admire her newly developed bosom. But I decided long ago to always answer Natalie’s questions about puberty and sex as honestly and appropriately as I could. I never want my daughter to feel ashamed about growing up.
“So,” Natalie said. “Does getting your period hurt?”
“It can be uncomfortable,” I said. “There can be muscle cramps and stuff. Sometimes women have to take a Tylenol. But it varies from woman to woman.”
“How long does it last?”
“A week usually.”
“A week?” Natalie shrieked.
“For some women it’s shorter.”
“When will I get my period?”
“I don’t know. Your cousin got hers at eleven. Sometimes it happens when you twelve or thirteen. Everybody’s different.”
“I hope I get mine when I’m twelve.”
“Listen,” I said. “It’ll happen when it happens. When you’re in middle school you’ll see boys and girls who are starting to look like men and women and boys and girls who still look like they’re still little kids in the same class. People grow up at different rates. It’s normal.” As I remember, Leigh-Ann was an early developer.
“What if it happens when I’m in school?” Natalie said.
“Well,” I said. “You just ask the teacher to be excused and go to the nurse. She’ll have stuff to help you.”
“What kind of stuff?” Oh boy.
“She’ll have some pads to help keep the blood from messing up your clothes.”
“What if I’m wearing white pants?” Wow. My daughter’s wargaming her menarche out already.
‘The mommy or daddy will bring you another pair of pants. Don’t worry about it. Accidents happen. And when you talk to your mom and the other girls who’ve gone through it, they’ll tell you all the tips and tricks how to deal with it.” Sisterhood is powerful.
“When can I have a boyfriend?”
“That usually starts happening when your fifteen or sixteen.”
“When did you first go on a date?”
“Fifteen,” I said. “I took a girl to the movies.” My dad drove us there and the girl’s father was waiting for us the moment we got out – with what I thought was a homicidal gleam in his eye.
“What movie did you see?”
“The Right Stuff. A movie about astronauts.”
“Did she want to see that?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“You should have asked her what she wanted to see.”
“Live and learn, kid.”
So,” Natalie said. “Will I get hair under my arms?”
“Most women shave it off.”
“Does that hurt?”
“Not if you do it right. Mommy will show you how. Men shave their faces and women shave their legs, it’s all part of the deal.”
“You have hair on your ears.”
“That didn’t happen until I was forty. Men get hair in weird places when they get older.”
“When can I walk to Starbucks with my friends?’
“Probably in middle school,” I said. “It’s on your way home.”
“I see all the older kids there. And at Playa Bowl.”
“Those places are very busy at 3:30.”
“So will I get a phone when I’m in middle school?”
I grunted. “We’ll see.”
When we got home, I made Natalie a snack and she turned on the tv to watch Barbie and “decompress” from her “tough day.” As I watched her drink her milk and nibble on a cookie I realized my daughter was still very much a little girl. She still sleeps in a kiddie bed with a menagerie of stuffed animals and, although she asserts her burgeoning independence every day, she still needs me to tuck her in every night with a kiss and a cuddle. I will miss that when it’s gone, big time. ‘Don’t be in such a rush to grow up, Natalie,” I said to myself. “You’re only a little kid once.”
Besides, I only have one bathroom in my house.
Despite wanting children very much, my wife and I did not receive that blessing. What we would do for conversations such as those… Thank you for sharing this intimate exchange.
Well done sir!
We’ve spent the last three years helping my wife’s sister with daycare for her grandchild (She’s had custody since the age of 6 weeks). We never had kids, as I didn’t think I’d ever become a “grown-up”. But at 60+ years now, having a three-year old around is the most amazing thing to watch grow up. Your stories of Natalie are always touching. Thanks, I think about you as I do what I can for this beautiful girl in our lives.